Commerce Secretary Takes Medical Leave Of Absence

With questions still swirling about what exactly happened over the weekend in Los Angeles, Secretary of Commerce has stepped aside temporarily, or at least it’s temporary for now:

LOS ANGELES — It began Saturday afternoon at a railroad crossing in a run-down commercial neighborhood in suburban San Gabriel, on a street bustling with signs in Chinese characters. A man in a Lexus rolled into the back of a Buick waiting for a train to pass. Two miles and five minutes later, the Lexus smacked into the rear of yet another car, in neighboring Rosemead.

The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office found the driver passed out at the wheel and took him to the hospital for observation. He was cited for a hit-and-run.

The driver was John E. Bryson, the commerce secretary, one of the lower-profile members of President Obama’s cabinet but a well-known figure in California energy and business circles. The episode set off a squall of speculation and questions from here to the White House about what had happened in the San Gabriel Valley.

By late Monday night, Mr. Bryson informed the White House that he would be taking a medical leave of absence to undergo tests and evaluation and that Deputy Secretary Rebecca M. Blank would assume his duties.

“The president’s thoughts are with Secretary Bryson and his family during this time,” said Jay Carney, the White House spokesman. “Secretary Bryson assured the White House that the Commerce Department staff will not miss a beat in their work helping America’s businesses compete.”

The White House said Mr. Bryson had suffered a seizure. But officials there and at the Commerce Department declined to offer details on Mr. Bryson’s medical history, including what might have caused the seizure, and took pains to say they were not saying the seizure caused the episode. They said that this was the first such seizure he had suffered.

“The commerce secretary was alone,” Mr. Carney said. “He had a seizure. He was involved in an accident.”

White House officials said Mr. Bryson had told them that he did not recall the events leading to the episode.

Mr. Bryson passed a breathalyzer test at the scene and submitted to a blood toxicology test, said Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office. He said that if the report came back negative, Mr. Bryson would not be charged.

There were no significant injuries, or heavy vehicular damage, in the accidents, which took place shortly past 5 p.m. on Saturday.

If charges don’t get filed officially, then I’d say this is pretty much over for Bryson as far as political blowback goes. The question then becomes whether his medical condition, whatever it might be, requires him to step aside.


Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Herb says:

    I’m getting a definite Anthony Weiner vibe from this story…..

    My bet: Medical tests come back negative. Blood test comes back positive.

  2. Perhaps.

    There are a number of medical conditions that could cause something like this. Epilpsey is the most obvious one most people will think of, put it could also be anything from a severe form of hypoglycemia to a brain tumor.

    Right now I think the odds that he returns full time are low

  3. Herb says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    “Right now I think the odds that he returns full time are low”

    Agreed. If he wants to come back….they shouldn’t let him.

    (Wonder just how voluntary the medical leave is too….I really get the sense that even his people at Commerce and the White House don’t really buy his story. Seems like they’re saying, “Um, okay….you got a doctor’s note?”)

  4. PJ says:


    If he wants to come back….they shouldn’t let him.

    If it is a medical condition and the condition won’t hamper him in a major way, then why shouldn’t he be allowed to return?

    Should Senators. Mark Kirk and Tim Johnson not have been allowed to return?

  5. Herb says:

    @PJ: “If it is a medical condition and the condition won’t hamper him in a major way, then why shouldn’t he be allowed to return?”

    I know I’m cynical but that’s a big if.

    I’m not saying epileptics can’t serve in the cabinet. I’m not saying he’s medically unfit. I’m just saying I don’t buy his seizure story and part of that is the circumstances and part of that is how it was handled.

    His credibility has taken a hit. And that’s why he shouldn’t come back.

  6. Gustopher says:

    @Herb: Really? His credibility has taken a hit?

    He was either on drugs, which we will know soon enough, or he has one of any number of medical conditions that can range from minor and easily controlled to having a little bit of time to put his affairs in order.

    If it isn’t drugs — and I would love to see the Fox reporting of Obama’s White House being a Crack House — then his credibility seems fine.

    You seldom get into two separate accidents without there being something serious going on, rather than just a lack of good judgement.

  7. Herb says:


    “If it isn’t drugs….then his credibility seems fine.”

    That’s not really how it works.

    Even a tiny black cloud over Bryson is going to make a permanent replacement that much more attractive.

  8. DRS says:

    He could also have had a mini-stroke. My late mother had them for a few years before she died – small blackouts that results in falls and head injuries. Kind of a “tap on the shoulder”.

  9. WR says:

    @Herb: I know he hit a couple of cars. Did he run over your dog, too? Because you’ve been howling for his scalp since the first story hit. And unless you’re next in line for the job, I can’t imagine why anyone in the world would have such a passionate hate on for this guy.

    I mean, he’s the secretary of commerce, for God’s sake.

  10. Herb says:

    @WR: I have nothing against Bryson personally. I just don’t buy his story. Indeed, I think it’s lucky that he was a government big wig driving a Lexus. Joe Schmoe driving a Camry might find his “seizure” explanation less than convincing minus the press release.